Memorial Party Ideas

One year ago, I typed this note on my phone at 11:12pm, a Minnesota blizzard raging outside:

“Glistening ice on the window. Dim hotel room. Szaba’s sleepy sighs and swaddle squirms. Laughter of friends and nieces down the hall. Sad and happy, all mixed up. I know Sue is here, and she loved her party. ‘You did good.’ Her smile. My tears.”

We had just thrown Sue “a party, a BIG party,” as she had requested. She didn’t want a sad memorial. She wanted a celebration of her life, and that’s what we gave her.

Pushing through our grief, we rented a ballroom, ordered flowers, arranged for catered food and cocktails, and made a photo slideshow of her life set to her favorite music.

Nearly 400 people came, despite blizzard conditions. They drove in from Iowa, South Dakota, and Ohio. They flew in from Illinois, Florida, and California. Each came in tow with a unique story about knowing Sue, and it was good to hear those stories. Healing. Happy.

What made the memorial most memorable though were the display tables around the room.

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We put each group of family and friends in charge of one: her family, her husband’s family, her grandchildren, her company, the 3 Day team walking in her honor, the Merely Players (her community theater cast and crew), her ex-husband’s family, and her “Golden Girl” friends. People made posters, displayed pictures, and gathered mementos, putting their memories and time spent with Sue proudly on display.

Months later when I was researching children’s books about grief for my project, I learned that we had accidentally done a wonderful thing. We hit on at least three points in The Doughy Center‘s 35 Ways to Help a Grieving Child.

  • #7: Talk about and remember the person who died.
  • #12: Use creative expression to work through emotions.
  • #35: Demonstrate healthy ways to deal with grief because children observe adults and follow suit.

By giving the many disparate groups of Sue’s friends a creative outlet for their grief and a way to celebrate their special connection to Sue, we set the stage for healing—from the adults all the way down to the kids.

“Sad and happy, all mixed up.” I think about that phrase often now, especially in regard to this blog. I’m sure my posts are hard for some people to read sometimes because, at its foundation, there’s a sorrowful experience: Sue’s death. But if I’m doing my job right, the happy should be coming through louder than the sad.

Death is unfortunately a fact a life, but I’m learning that it can be an affirmation of life, too. Quite simply, you can’t have one without the other. Sue’s life, in particular, was all about living life to the fullest. So it only makes sense that her death brings with it a message of life.

By sharing the lessons of my grief—along with my renewed appreciation and passion for life—I hope to nurture and inspire others. I am not the captain of this boat; hell, I’m not even sure where it’s headed! I’m merely helping to set it a sail.

Like with her party, Sue wanted a celebration of life, and that’s what I’m giving her … and me … and you.

So if you have ideas, recommendations, or reflections from your own experience, please post them or e-mail them to me directly.

We’re all in this boat together afterall, so why not throw each other a life vest?

Do you have memorial party ideas that were helpful for you and your family? If so, please share.

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